Trigger Warning: deadnaming, misogyny, rape, taunting a rape victim, toxic masculinity, transphobia, wartime violence
In some versions of this myth, Caeneus is a warrior in the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs; in other versions of the myth, he is a member of the next generation, and joins Jason on his quest for the Golden Fleece as an Argonaut. The following is an aristeia, an element of epic poetry which focuses on one particular hero’s battle exploits.
Nestor explains the exploits of Caeneus to Achilles and his other allies:
Quinque neci Caeneus
dederat Styphelumque Bromumque
Antimachumque Elymumque securiferumque Pyracmon: 460
vulnera non memini, numerum nomenque notavi.
provolat Emathii spoliis armatus Halesi,
quem dederat leto, membris et corpore Latreus
maximus: huic aetas inter iuvenemque senemque,
vis iuvenalis erat, variabant tempora cani. 465
qui clipeo galeaque Macedoniaque sarisa
conspicuus faciemque obversus in agmen utrumque
armaque concussit certumque equitavit in orbem
verbaque tot fudit vacuas animosus in auras:
"et te, Caeni, feram? nam tu mihi femina semper, 470
tu mihi Caenis eris. nec te natalis origo
commonuit, mentemque subit, quo praemia facto
quaque viri falsam speciem mercede pararis?
quid sis nata, vide, vel quid sis passa, columque,
i, cape cum calathis et stamina pollice torque; 475
bella relinque viris." iactanti talia Caeneus
extentum cursu missa latus eruit hasta,
qua vir equo commissus erat. furit ille dolore
nudaque Phyllei iuvenis ferit ora sarisa:
non secus haec resilit, quam tecti a culmine grando, 480
aut siquis parvo feriat cava tympana saxo.
comminus adgreditur laterique recondere duro
luctatur gladium: gladio loca pervia non sunt.
"haut tamen effugies! medio iugulaberis ense,
quandoquidem mucro est hebes" inquit et in latus ensem 485
obliquat longaque amplectitur ilia dextra.
plaga facit gemitus ut corpore marmoris icto,
fractaque dissiluit percusso lammina callo.
ut satis inlaesos miranti praebuit artus,
"nunc age" ait Caeneus "nostro tua corpora ferro 490
temptemus!" capuloque tenus demisit in armos
ensem fatiferum caecamque in viscera movit
versavitque manum vulnusque in vulnere fecit.
ecce ruunt vasto rabidi clamore bimembres
telaque in hunc omnes unum mittuntque feruntque. 495
tela retusa cadunt: manet inperfossus ab omni
inque cruentatus Caeneus Elateius ictu.
fecerat attonitos nova res. "heu dedecus ingens!"
Monychus exclamat. "populus superamur ab uno
vixque viro; quamquam ille vir est, nos segnibus actis, 500
quod fuit ille, sumus. quid membra inmania prosunt?
quid geminae vires et quod fortissima rerum
in nobis natura duplex animalia iunxit?
nec nos matre dea, nec nos Ixione natos
esse reor, qui tantus erat, Iunonis ut altae 505
spem caperet: nos semimari superamur ab hoste!
saxa trabesque super totosque involvite montes
vivacemque animam missis elidite silvis!
massa premat fauces, et erit pro vulnere pondus."
dixit et insanis deiectam viribus austri 510
forte trabem nactus validum coniecit in hostem
exemplumque fuit, parvoque in tempore nudus
arboris Othrys erat, nec habebat Pelion umbras.
obrutus inmani cumulo sub pondere Caeneus
aestuat arboreo congestaque robora duris 515
fert umeris, sed enim postquam super ora caputque
crevit onus neque habet, quas ducat, spiritus auras,
deficit interdum, modo se super aera frustra
tollere conatur iactasque evolvere silvas
interdumque movet, veluti, quam cernimus, ecce, 520
ardua si terrae quatiatur motibus Ide.
exitus in dubio est: alii sub inania corpus
Tartara detrusum silvarum mole ferebant;
abnuit Ampycides medioque ex aggere fulvis
vidit avem pennis liquidas exire sub auras, 525
quae mihi tum primum, tunc est conspecta supremum.
hanc ubi lustrantem leni sua castra volatu
Mopsus et ingenti circum clangore sonantem
adspexit pariterque animis oculisque secutus
"o salve," dixit "Lapithaeae gloria gentis, 530
maxime vir quondam, sed nunc avis unica, Caencu!"
credita res auctore suo est: dolor addidit iram,
oppressumque aegre tulimus tot ab hostibus unum;
nec prius abstitimus ferro exercere dolorem,
quam data pars leto, partem fuga noxque removit.' 535
--Ovid, Metamorphoses XII. 459 – 531
Nestor explains the exploits of Caeneus to Achilles and his other allies:
Caeneus brought down five centaurs: Styphelus, Bromus, Antimachus, Elymus, and ax-wielding Pyracmon; I don’t remember how they died, but I do remember their names.
Latreus, wearing the armor of Halesus (the warrior he had just slain), next advanced upon Caeneus. He was huge, with giant limbs and torso. He was in the prime of his life—not too young, not too old—he was still young, but with gray hair on his temples. He stood out with his Macedonian lance, his shield and helmet. Scanning both sides of the battle, he struck his shield with his lance and doing little prance, taunted:
“Hey little girl, will I put up with you? For you will always be a woman to me, you will always be my Caenis [dead name]. Doesn’t your gender assigned at birth [natalis origo] keep you in check, don’t you remember [mentem subit] the rape that caused you to be rewarded with the fake form of a man? Look at what you were born to be, or the rape that you suffered, and go back to your loom. Pluck your woolen thread with your thumb. Leave war for the men.”
While he was boasting this, Caeneus struck him in the side with his spear, and hit the centaur where the man and horse were fused. Maddened by pain, the centaur hit him point-blank in the face, but the weapon bounced right off of him, like hail bounces off a rooftop, or a rock skipping on the head of a drum.
They fought hand-to-hand, and the centaur tried to stab him in the side with his sword, but the sword could not pierce Caeneus.
“You won’t escape! Although my point of my blade is dull, I’ll still slit your throat with my sword-edge!” Saying this, the centaur twisted to the side and struck his groin. The blow made the sound as if hitting marble; as it struck Caeneus’ skin, the blade shattered.
Caeneus revealed his unwounded limbs to the shocked centaur and replied, “Now it’s my turn to try my blade against your flesh!” He thrust his sword into the centaur’s torso and twisted it through his guts, making wound upon wound.
With an immense shout, the centaurs rallied and all threw their weapons to one target. Their weapons fell away blunted; although bloodied, Caeneus remained unharmed from every wound.
The centaurs stood there, thunderstruck. Monychus cursed, “Such a disgrace—to be overcome by someone barely one man [ab uno vixque viro]! Although he is a man, we are what he was [i.e., women] by our lack of gumption! What benefit do our huge limbs give us? Don’t our dual natures give us twice the strength? I guess a goddess didn’t birth us, I guess we’re not children of Ixion, who dared to hit on Juno—we’re defeated by a half-man [semimari…ab hoste]! Toss trees and boulders and even entire mountains on him! Throw the forest down over his head—let’s bury him alive, and he will suffocate!”
He finished speaking and, with immense strength, he grabbed a tree that was felled by the wind, and it struck his mighty enemy. This was the example they needed, and in a short amount of time, Othrys was empty of trees, and so was Pelion.
Caeneus was overwhelmed by such immense weight, and struggled under the weight of the trees heaped upon him that went up to his shoulders. But when the pile covered his face and mouth, and he could no longer breathe, his strength failed him as he tried in vain to lift the pile off of him. The heap moved then the way that we see Mt. Ida shake.
I’m not sure how he died. Some say the weight of the rocks killed him; but Mopsus doesn’t think so. He saw a bird flying up from the pile. I saw it, too—the first and only time I saw such a bird. When Mopsus saw it swoop over our camp, giving a mighty caw, he watched it attentively and addressed it, saying,
“Hail, Caeneus, glory of the Lapiths! Once you were the mightiest of men, and now you are a rare bird!”
Name: Publius Ovidius Naso
Date: 43 BCE – 18 CE
Works: Ars Amatoria
Ovid was one of the most famous love poets of Rome’s Golden Age. His most famous work, the Metamorphoses, provides a history of the world through a series of interwoven myths. Most of his poetry is erotic in nature; for this reason, he fell into trouble during the conservative social reforms under the reign of the emperor Augustus. In 8 CE he was banished to Bithynia, where he spent the remainder of his life pining for his native homeland.
GOLDEN AGE ROME